May 17, 2022

“Every Last One” by Anna Quindlan

Anna Quindlan is such a good columnist (New York Times, Newsweek) that is constently thrills me that she also such a good and prodigious writer, Black and Blue, being my favorite among her novels…

Every Last One is her newest and … holy you know what.  I walked into the library to fight with their fax machine (I damned mine to the basement for insubordination) and Barbara Carlson hurled the book at me while muttering something akin to OMG.  Being naturally quiet people (not this bunch, but still), any time a librarian thrusts a book at you, you must take it.

Next image is me reading quietly at home while two sick children cough and gag in the background and the other three cough at school.  I sit.  I read.  I want to flip ahead to the part that made Barbara say OMG, but I can not.

Mary Beth Latham is a mom.  A wife.  She and her doctor husband have three children.  All at home.  I read.  They are normal and fairly happy.  Dinner, school, camp, boyfriends, the usual.  Mary Beth has friends and neighbors with varying degrees of involvement in her life.  The past has a few thorns as does, we assume, the future.  This is life after all.

What happens is staggeringly heinous.  Take the magic eight ball.  Shake it and ask a question.  Then, in lieu of an answer, throw it out the car window and watch a tractor trailer drive over it.  Now imagine that was your heart.

Now get up the next day.  And the next.  Repeat until the day you die.  This is the new world for Mary Beth Latham.

It is quite extraordinary how resilient mankind really is.  Things you can not imagine surviving are survivable simply because you have no choice.  You literally CAN NOT imagine them.  Thank God.  You can decide to act a certain way or not to act that way, but it really makes no difference.  You breathe in and out until life moves on.  It is actually merciful to be shocked and numbed because operating at full capacity with full cognizance is totally out of the question anyway. 

I certainly couldn’t have and neither can Mary Beth.  The testament to the power of Anna Quindlan’s novels is her grasp of reality.  She sees and hears and tells you a story that has happened.  It happens all the time.  Thankfully not quite like this, but horrifyingly often nevertheless.

It is a gift to feel another’s pain.  Empathy is far more useful than sympathy.  If you can for one moment be in Mary Beth’s shoes, you are a stronger, more understanding person.  If for one minute of one conversation when you meet or know someone who has been in staggering circumstances, you can choose the better thing to say — the more empathetic thing to say — then it is a gift for you both.

Jennifer Petty Mann grew up in New York City, moved to London, England, then back to Boston, and is now happily ensconced on the EightMile river in Lyme with three little ones.  A former teacher, window dresser for Saks, and designer, she is taking her love of books to the proverbial “street.” 

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